Q & A: National Football League Labor Negotiations
Matthew T. Bodie, associate dean for research and faculty development and professor in the School of Law, shares some insight into the NFL labor negotiations, which have been threatening the upcoming professional football season.
Q: What is the current situation with the NFL regarding the labor negotiations?
A: The NFL owners' lockout means the players and teams cannot conduct NFL business. Players can't practice, at least not with their teams, and coaches can't coach. We keep hearing that a settlement is close, but we've been hearing that for about a month.
Q: Can you explain the process of labor negotiations such as these, and why it takes so long?
A: It doesn't have to take so long. The two sides could have met and kept things largely the way they are, with a few tweaks. A lockout is a longer-term strategy. Employers use it to force employees into caving in once they start missing paychecks. But NFL players don't get paid until the season, so you were not going to see the pressure start to work until then. And the owners had signaled for a while, beginning even years ago, that they were intending to opt out of the previous agreement and lock the players out. That gave the players time to prepare.
|Mattew Bodie Photo by Jay Fram|
Q: What are the major issues being negotiated?
A: The owners and players split the total revenue of the NFL and the owners want a larger portion. That's essentially it, although the details are pretty complicated. The owners already take a big chunk of revenue off the table to pay for certain expenses before the money is split and the owners want to make that chunk significantly bigger in order to pay for stadiums and other capital improvements. Players want more protection for their careers, particularly in the face of the very troubling evidence about concussions in football.
Q: Why are these issues important to the NFL as an employer and the players as employees?
A: The NFL cannot replace its players. It's been done before, and fans just don't accept the downgrade in performance. And NFL players have extremely short careers - shorter than any of the other sports leagues. They want to get back on the field.
Q: How do these issues compare to those that other organizations encounter?
A: These issues are extremely unique. Only sports leagues have (1) monopolies over their industry, (2) a lot of money in endorsements and television revenue, and (3) a labor force with extremely rare (and therefore largely irreplaceable) talents.
Q: What must happen for a resolution to take place and what are the possible outcomes?
A: The owners went into these negotiations with a very aggressive strategy. They locked out the players and made it clear that they were going to fight for a dramatic change in their economic relationship. But the players have done a terrific job in rebuffing that. Their litigation strategy has really put the scare in the owners. Even though the injunction against the lockout was rescinded by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the league is still potentially liable to the players for millions in television revenues and antitrust damages. It would take a while for that litigation to work its way through the courts, but I have to think the league is terrified at the prospect of an antitrust regime applied to their labor relations. And individual players have generally stayed on message and have supported the group's themes. That's why the two sides are talking now - the owners have realized they have much more to lose than they expected.